(Updated 1/7/2011) A bill that toughens South Carolina’s immigration laws to meet Arizona’s controversial standard moved forward through the legislature Thursday, as lawmakers wasted no time before the full session begins next week.
A Senate subcommittee approved the bill, which would give law enforcement greater freedom to check the background of those they stop, detain, or arrest if they suspect that person is in the country illegally. It would also allow prison officials to check the status of those currently in the state’s prisons.
At a press workshop in Columbia Thursday, Sen. Larry Martin (R-Pickens) disputed that the controversial bill is a “wedge issue” against Hispanics.
He says it’s a problem of law enforcement, since hundreds of undocumented aliens are currently in the state’s prisons.
I get asked this every day: what is it costing us? Why fool with it? Aren’t these people being productive? Well, we have the equivalent of an entire prison in South Carolina with undocumented people (currently in prison). That’s a lot of folks.
The legislature moved forward with the bill after a series of hearings across the state over the summer.
VIDEO: Sen. Martin discusses the bill as forwarding GOP conservative agenda.
Sen. Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) called the bill a waste of time, saying the problem is a federal one.
Until it’s addressed in Washington comprehensively, whatever we do is going to pretty much be window dressing. It might make people feel good, but we’re not a border state… This has got to be solved in Washington.
Hutto says the Legislature needs to spend its time on more pressing issues.
Even if the bill becomes law, however, only a few agencies in South Carolina would be allowed to enforce it. Martin says that’s because most don’t meet federal rules for immigration.
The bill now heads to the full Senate Judiciary Committee, where it is scheduled to be discussed Tuesday.
Meanwhile, a bill that would require photo identification cards for voters in South Carolina’s elections also passed a separate subcommittee vote Thursday. The bill would allow those who don’t currently have a state-issued ID to obtain one for free from the Department of Motor Vehicles.
That bill also includes a provision that creates a 15-day early voting period before an election. Early voting is different from absentee ballots, which require the person be out of town, working, or otherwise unable to vote on Election Day. Early voting is currently not allowed in South Carolina, although it is permitted in 31 other states.